Creating harmony, simplicity and peace in the landscape......

"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

Gardening is an instrument of grace. "

May Sarton

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Grow Stevia - The Natural Zero Calorie Sweetener

(photo from Civil Eats)

In 2008  the Food and Drug Administration declared a natural zero-calorie sweetener derived from the herb Stevia safe for use in foods and beverages. A long time favorite of natural foodies, Stevia, or sweetleaf, is a tender herb native to South America (zones 10, 11 ). Its extract is widely sold here as the tabletop sweetener, Truvia.

There is a good reason why stevia is called sweetleaf. Its dried leaves are 15 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar and a glycoside that can be extracted from Stevia leaves is 300 times sweeter than sucrose!

In Japan stevia has been sold as a sweetener for over 30 years and they use it in their version of Coke. It  is also available  in Brazil and China. Stevia is banned for use in food in the European Union.
The story of stevia is quite interesting. It shows how a natural product can be banned by the government, only to be adopted by the largest multi-national beverage manufacturers in the world (Pepsi, Coca Cola) and then ushered in by the FDA.

Stevia’s “natural” label will indeed make it the holy grail of sweeteners.

So how did we go from sugar and honey to Stevia?

And why if Stevia is safe, as some other countries have deemed it to be, did the FDA ban it and then restrict  it for years, only to legalize it and allow the biggest names in soft drinks to use it? And is this little leaf from Paraguay why George Bush bought 100,000 acres in northern Paraguay?
The verdict is still out on Stevia's safety - a report prepared for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) by UCLA toxicologists found that several laboratory tests have shown stevia to cause DNA mutations in lab animals.

CPSI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson denounced FDA’s decision, saying, “It is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people. It looks like this is President Bush’s parting gift to the soda industry.”   You can read more on this in Jenny Hawke’s “The Bittersweet Story of Stevia.”

But on a small scale why not try growing Stevia?

(from the blog Zanthan Gardens)

This annual is a fragrant, bright green herb that grows 12  inches high in well drained soil and full sun. It sports small white flowers in summer. It will look wonderful in a mixed flower herb garden of Basil, Catnip, Golden Sage, Lavender, and annual flowers.

(this is from Tanglewood Gardens - great site)

Plant Stevia as an annual in late spring or early summer when all danger of frost has passed. The roots are shallow so water lightly and frequently, allowing the soil to dry between waterings. Do not Overwater! Yocan grow it in a pot using a light weight potting soil.

Ifyou grow your own stevia, dry and crush the leaves before using as a sweetener. Grind the dried leaves and sprinkle them into cereals and other cold dishes as you would sugar. Or use it like a bay leaf to sweeten meat and vegetables dishes while they cook.

One other great note - it is aphid resistant.

Buy seeds or better yet, buy small plants of this easy-to-grow miracle plant....join the revolution!

Heres a great article on growing stevia in my part of the world - Westfair on line

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ovals in the Landscape - Elegance, Healing and Celebration

Ovals and ellipses add an understated elegance to the landscape.

These elongated circles are perfect for ceremonial outdoor spaces and promote movement in a garden. 

Ellipses, ovals and the familiar 'racetrack' shape all contribute to a harmonious atmosphere outdoors.
I utilized an oval shape when I created this level lawn on the side of a steeply sloping hill. 

I cut into the steep slope and retained it with a 3'10" ft high reinforced stone wall on the uphill side and a similar wall, which you can't see, down below on the downhill side of the lawn.

This special lawn was designed for the dimensions of a large tent to be used once a year for a grand outdoor party for children afflicted with brain and spinal cord tumors.

The Making Headway Foundation is the host of this wonderful event and the kids love it!

The most prominent feature of the Oval Garden is a row of Norway Spruce trees on the far side of the level lawn. As one gazes down onto the garden from the house, these evergreen trees stop the eye and define the limits of the space.

The trees screen the neighboring properties from view and serve as a dark green backdrop for the space they enclose. Most importantly, the tall spires of the Spruce trees act as a visual counterbalance to the high hillside on the opposite side of the lawn. Both vertical elements, the trees and the hill, form two tall side walls of the Oval garden and make it a nestled space deep within the safe embrace of Nature.

                     (forest pansy redbud on the hillside)

I selected the plants in the Oval Garden for their leaf texture more than anything else. Texture considerations emphasize leaves of varying size and shape rather than masses of  flowers. While the Spruce trees provide a needle leaf evergreen silhouette,  large leafed plants stand in the shadiest section of the Oval Garden. A large grouping of 'Snow Queen' Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ' Snow Queen'), a deciduous shrub with large, deeply lobed leaves, combines well with the glossy leafed, shade tolerant  Rosebay Rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum).

(Oakleaf Hydrangea 'Snow Queen')

(morning light miscanthus and junipers with ladies mantle in foregorund)

I also used the slender bladed, varigated grass, Miscanthus 'Morning Light' and also the large leaved ladies mantle to add textural interest. The different sized leaves provide a restful, green contrast to the colorful flowers in other parts of the property.

Green plants and curving and oval shapes  make a wonderful outdoor healing space, don't you think?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Now is the time! Don't delay!

We all know that herbicides can harm us and the environment, so it follows that scientists are studying natural  weed control methods.

A team at Michigan State University recently studied the effectiveness of mulched maple and oak leaves on common dandelions in bluegrass lawns. The team tested chopped up leaves of red maple, silver maple, sugar maple and red oak and looked to see how they worked to suppress dandelions in a lawn. They found that after one and two mulch applications (at a high rate of mulching)  up to 80% and 53% reduction in dandelions was achieved, respectively.

This makes sense since leaves lay naturally on a meadow and are not blown off. They block light and water and suppress weed growth.. But we, lawn owners, immediately blow off all the leaves on our lawn in our 'early spring clean up' which opens up sun to all weed seeds. We then apply pre emergent weed killers to prevent the dandelions from sprouting ...

Perhaps we should look at it from another perspective - rather than curse the dandelion as an irksome weed and poison it  - let's Eat the Dandelions!

In countries across the world the dandelion is considered a vegetable. Its leaves are consumed with gusto as they are delicious and very nutritious.

Dandelion greens are one of the most nutritionally dense greens you can eat. They are full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  They are potassium-rich, are a great blood detoxifier and are wonderful for the liver. They have been used to treat digestive disorders, arthritis and eczema. As a side note, it is their deep taproot that brings up vital minerals from the sub soil and that is why they are full of those important nutritionally elements.

Dandelion greens have a reputation for bitterness but young greens are less bitter than mature foliage so now - early spring - is the time to forage for and harvest dandelion greens.  Do it before they flower!

Look for young dandelions growing in rich soil, not too close to roads (they can accumulate pollution) and not from areas that have been treated with garden chemicals.

If you go out right now, you will find the tenderest, sweetest part of the plant which is the crown, that cluster of new buds that sits above the taproot.

Young dandelion greens are tender and can be served raw in salads or sandwiches. They are so good for you that it is a wonder they are not being touted as a miracle plant.   Dandelion roots can also be ground and used as a substitute for coffee, and dandelion flowers can be used in recipes and for garnish.

Cream of Dandelion Soup (from a great blog, A Veggie Venture)
Hands-on time: 30 minutes    Time to table: 30 minutes   Makes about 3 cups
1/2 pound dandelion greens, washed well and drained, roots trimmed, stems chopped small, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chicken broth

Prep the greens. In a large skillet, melt the butter til shimmery. Add the greens and stir to coat with fat. Let cook, stirring occasionally, til greens are beginning to soften. Add the stock and continue cooking til greens are cooked but still bright green.

2 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, diced small
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup whole milk (my friend, Lynn, says use skim milk)
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard (don't skip this)
1/2 cup whole milk or cream (my friend, Lynn, says use skim milk
Salt and white pepper

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan til shimmery. Add the carrot and onion (I add the carrot first since it takes longer to cook) and let cook til softening but not browning. Stir in the flour, creating a heavy paste. A tablespoon at a time, stir in the milk, incorporating completely into the paste before adding more. Let cook for 2 - 3 minutes (this cooks out the floury taste) and until completely hot.

Pour the greens and the white sauce into a blender and process til smooth. Return to the saucepan. Stir in mustard and cream and season to taste. Heat through (don't let boil) and serve.


With whole milk - Per Cup: 277 Cal (58% from Fat, 9% from Protein, 32% from Carb); 7 g Protein; 19 g Tot Fat; 12 g Sat Fat; 23 g Carb; 5 g Fiber; NetCarb18; 172 mg Calcium; 3 mg Iron; 258 mg Sodium; 52 mg Cholesterol; Weight Watchers 6 points
With heavy cream - Per Cup: 321 Cal (67% from Fat, 7% from Protein, 26% from Carb); 6 g Protein; 25 g Tot Fat; 15 g Sat Fat; 22 g Carb; 5 g Fiber; 185 mg Calcium; 3 mg Iron; 244 mg Sodium; 74 mg Cholesterol; Weight Watchers 8 points

Thursday, March 25, 2010

energy follows thought....

A serenity garden is a place of respite where we might gaze upon the beauty of nature and ponder upon the wonders of our earthly abode...

If we create a peaceful setting then we will bring more peace into our follows thought...and thus surrounding ourselves with a cherished zone of quiet and beauty, no matter how small, will inevitably affect our wellbeing.

This is the year when more and more people will understand the unseen mechanisms of our world.  It will come out of the shadows into the filtered light of day.  Almost 23 years ago I took a class, along with Christpher Reeve, that told us 'thought creates reality'.  It seemed absurd at the time. But now it is being discussed openly on Oprah!

So now I will also share my views on what is happening - the shift has begun! If you are interested in all this then click on 2010 predictions for more insight.

A serenity garden can be your oasis for such introspective thoughts. Calming and tranquil, such a space allows us to connect to a deeper reality...
(garden by Jan Johnsen)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Green Walls, Vertical Meadows and Lawn Furniture

You have heard of green walls?  Those wonderful, verdant vertical displays full of carex, mondo grass, ferns, spider plants and more....

G Sky is a great company who specializes in green walls and roofs. Their website is a compendium of all sorts of green wall info and pictures.

Now in the lovely gardener's paradise of New Zealand, Alan Joliffe reports that they have mastered the vertical meadow! He talks about it in his blog Alan Jolliffe - The Art and Science of Gardening

The Christchurch 'Festival of Flowers' commissioned a Vertical lawn / meadow for this year's show:

"Once the research and Development was complete special fabric was coated with grass seed and wild flower seed and grown in a greenhouse.

A large vertical scaffold was constructed and at the beginning of the Festival the Vertical Lawn was installed. In typical Kiwi Fashion a lawn mower was added to the installation.

The building in the background is the famous Canterbury Museum."

Isn't that a hoot? Well if you like that, the sky is the limit!  All you need is water and grass shears for these proverbial 'lawn chairs':

The last one, by Terra grass furniture is my favorite.  These chairs, are made from biodegradable cardboard forms. Simply fill the form with soil, seed it with grass, and watch it grow. I am going to create a little conversation corner with these...why not? they seem so appealing! the maintenance would be a little dicey, however.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Waterboxx - A Cure for Desertification?

I have always been fascinated by the story of the ancient Roman soldiers who survived being in the desert by laying out sheepskins and each morning collecting the dew water that was caught on the wooly surface overnight. The water vapor in the air precipitated as small water drops on the fleece in the cool of the night and was wrung out in the morning.

Pieter Hoff, a Dutch 'green' inventor, utilized this principle of nature to create his celebrated Waterboxx.

Mr. Hoff was the largest grower of lilies in the Netherlands and the largest exporter of bulbs in the world when he sold his business several years ago with this stated goal:  "I wanted to leave a better world for our children."

He developed the Waterboxx, a protective shelter for young tree saplings, that catches water from the rare rain showers in the desert and more specifically from the air, in the same way that the ancient sheepskins worked. The condensated water from the air collects on the ridged surface of the  waterboxx and  is distributed in small doses to the tree inside the waterboxx. Additionally the Waterboxx protects the tree roots against sun, wind, weeds or rodents and prevents water in the topsoil from evaporating.

After a year the tree within the waterboxx is strong enough to grow by itself and the polypropylene structure can be removed and  used again 12 more times.

Hoff explains, "Trees can grow in arid areas but are not able to germinate. The WaterBoxx gives them a head start". He recently tested his invention in the Moroccan Sahara desert with the result that 90 percent of the 3500 fruit tree saplings planted with a WaterBoxx were alive and green after a few months in the extreme hot summer.  This contrasted with those trees planted without a waterboxx - there, 90 percent of the trees died even though they had been watered every week.  After three years, over 88% of the waterboxx trees are rapidly growing. Now, similar studies are ongoing in Kenya and Spain and he has chosen Napa/Sonoma and Palm Springs/Joshua Tree for his United States study.

Hoff is convinced that large parts of the earth can be reforested, without sacrificing agricultural land. The Waterboxx makes it possible to plant trees or bushes on rocks, on mountains, in burned woods, overgrazed lands, eroded areas, deserts or any other place, without the help of irrigation with a 92% planting result.

Hoff is seeking investors to apply his invention in the Middle East, India, Africa and other arid territories. Hoff maintains that "If we can reforest 2 billion hectares, the trees consume more CO2 than men produces and the whole CO2 problem will be solved."

To see a short video presentation by Pieter Hoff click here - The Groasis Waterboxx. - (All images from Aquapro)

A similar dew catching technique comes from WatAir.  Each WatAir unit features 96 square meters of lightweight dew-collecting panels that gravitationally funnel moisture from the air to one collective source. The designers, Joseph Cory of Geotectura and Eyal Malka of Malka Architects from Haifa, Israel, estimate that each unit can collect roughly 48 liters of water in remote places or places that do not have any clean water sources. The panels are flexible, easy to collapse when not in use, and readily available to provide shade and even some shelter.

All these examples remind me of that magnificent Japanese movie directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, 'Woman in the Dunes' (砂の女, Suna no onna)..I can't explain why because then it ruins the movie for you.....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Special Plant Named for a Special Man

Sometimes you just want to add 'sizzle' to a landscape. Especially in winter.....

This is what I wanted for a front entry walk that I was designing for a client. The plants I specified were common ones for my Northeastern woodland part of the world: rhododendron, azaleas, white birch trees and shadbush (amelanchier clumps).

They looked all great but I wanted the front door area to have something that gave it some 'punch' in winter.  So I planted the show stopping 'Harry Lauder's Walking Stick' (Corylus avellana' Contorta') to add some spice to an otherwise staid scene.

This tree, a Filbert variety, is known for its unusual twisted twigs and branches that give the whole plant a contorted appearance. It is actually a large shrub, growing up to 15 feet high and wide. In winter, the curly branches of the Walking Stick are truly delightful and make the entire tree appear as a work of sculpture.

During the growing season, the leaves have a crinkly appearance, but do not have the same impact as the branches and twigs. In March, the catkin flowers hang down like little ornaments. 'Harry', as I call it, grows slowly, tolerates part sun and is adaptable to many soils. It is a wonderful feature in a small garden. There is even a red variety, Red Majestic,  as shown here.

(Corylus avellana Red Majestic - courtesy White Flower Farm)

The tree got its name from a popular Scottish vaudeville comedian, Harry Lauder, who used a polished and bent gnarly cane in his show. When his only son was killed during World War I, Harry traveled to the front trenches and, with his crooked stick, performed his funny songs to raise the morale of the wounded and fighting men.

He also raised one million dollars (quite a sum back then!) to help the returning veterans. Because of his bravery and generosity, he was knighted Sir Harry in 1919.

The tree, which had been discovered in an English hedgerow in 1863, was later named in tribute to Sir Harry and his walking stick.

I should note that Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is very susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, a fungus indigenous to the Northeast of the U.S. If you live in the northeast  be prepared to treat it as a shortlived wonder because it will eventually succumb to the blight - at which point you must dispose of it!   

Also, Japanese beetles can be a problem...but if you deal with them as you do with roses you can control it...

but still, in all, the beauty of 'Harry' in winter is unsurpassed.....and his generous spirit lives on.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

what I look at when surfing the web...

You can find out alot about a person if you know what they look at when they are simply surfing the web..

So you think that I am now going to talk about all the great gardening and design sites I go to...Not!

I must admit that my 'go-to' site is by Steve Jurvetson - who I don't know but am intrigued by....he is into science and photography and runs a great Flikr site...

he does not address plants or gardens at all but his photos are awesome and his interests are the complete opposite from mine..

which is why I like it so much.

His conversations portray a world that I am not a part of.  I do not understand many of the things he talks about and that is part of the fascination...maybe this is why I loved the movie, The Matrix.

It is like a foreign language from a foreign planet - like eavesdropping on Dr. Spock or something. ...

here is a sample:
For example, consider the chemical reaction of a caffeine molecule binding to a receptor (something which is top of mind =). These two molecules are performing a quantum mechanical computation to solve the Schrödinger equation for all of their particles. This simple system is finding the simultaneous solution for about 2^1000 equations. That is a task of such immense complexity that if all of the matter of the universe was recast into BlueGene supercomputers, they could not find the solution even if they crunched away for the entire history of the universe. And that’s for one of the molecules in your coffee cup. The Matrix would require a different approach. =)

Shades of Shrodinger's Cat! I mean what the heck is simultaneous solution for about 2^1000 equations? I have no idea and will never know but it reminds me of how vast the world is and how we are all built differently...

(cartoon portraying Shrodinger's Cat, a quantum science 'thought experiment')

it sounds perverse, I know. But while I am extolling the virtues of hydrangeas or miniature hostas , Jurvetson is directing his readers to this poster.... so yang to my yin.....

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The best place to seek God....

The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Our rediscovery of nature's 'holy' qualities is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the last 100 years we have traveled from seeing the natural environment as something to be tamed or conquered to viewing it as something to be preserved and revered.

Chief Seattle's words from 1854 ring true:

“Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.”

This ecological awareness has led many of us to yearn for a more meaningful connection to the outdoors which is why I write my ‘serenity in the garden’ blog.

I see the piece of ground outside our doors as an everyday conduit to the energy of life that flows within plants, water, trees, sunlight, rocks, birds and assorted creatures. It is here, in a garden, where we can touch the divine.

Looking at nature in this way is nothing new. The idea of special or rarified outdoor space can be seen in the sacred groves of the Egyptians, Indians, Babylonians and Greeks. It is evident in the medieval world’s labyrinths and the Native Americans’ 'medicine wheels'. And of course Chinese geomancy,‘Feng Shui’, and Indian ‘Vaastu’ both hark back thousands of years.

Our enthusiasm for plants, spirituality and the unseen in the natural world has developed quickly. We seem to have suddenly realized that there is something more to the world around us than what we have been taught. There are few sages to advise us as we forge ahead in our pursuit of extraordinary awareness in the garden but we can look to past masters for guidance.

Great thinkers such as Lao-Tzu, Pythagoras and Emerson, among others, tell us of the power of the natural world and its impact upon the human spirit. Ancient cultures such as the Native Americans, Chinese and Celts have long standing traditions that teach us how to listen to the plants and the land. And lastly, the amazing, almost mystical, discoveries of modern science reveal the interconnections between us and the natural world.

I look to these three branches of exploration for inspiration for the entries that I write here. My blog is for you, the seeker / garden lover.  I believe that now, at the dawn of the 21st century, we can learn a lot from such discussions.   It is my firm belief that the 'numinous dimension' of a garden is where we will find the enchantment that we are all seeking....